IIt’s hard to explain what it’s like when someone you thought you knew intimately starts repeating conspiracy theories about the pandemic and vaccines. You don’t really understand what is happening right away: it is too vast and jarring an understanding to swallow in one go. So you go through phases. You hold onto the straws first. Maybe it’s a bad joke, or they didn’t mean it, or they are simply misinformed. Then you enter a stage of fiery and disorienting rage and frustrated protest. Once it wears out, you finally calm down. But inside of you there is a gloomy realization that this person you love is not only putting their life at risk: maybe you never knew them at all.
People with the wildest theories about the pandemic can be found in countries even where most people do not have access to the Internet, cable television, or fans of commercial radio. A common impulse is to weed out those who champion conspiracies, entrusting them to victims claimed by WhatsApp groups, misinformation, or silent mental health issues. These things may be true, but vaccinations are a symptom of broader failures. What all people who distrust vaccines have in common, from Khartoum to Kansas, their trust in the state has been eroded. Without understanding this, we will be destined to continue to channel our frustrations onto people without understanding why they have lost trust in the first place.
This mistrust can be so deep that people will trust almost any source of information other than the government. In my birthplace of Sudan, less than 1% of the population have been fully vaccinated and ventilators are even rarer than vaccines. The story is much the same in several other African countries, where vaccine availability is so poor that people will drop everything and head to a hospital based solely on the rumor that free vaccines are available that day. But for many other people, those rare life-saving vaccines sound suspiciously like too good a thing.
When the first batch of donated vaccines was shipped to Sudan earlier this year, two vulnerable members of my family rejected them because someone had started a rumor that a power shortage in the country meant that the vaccines could not be stored properly and therefore, they would. they have certainly “shot up” and are harmful. Others and I tried to convince them that even if that were the case, the worst case scenario was that the injections would be ineffective rather than really harmful. Our efforts were useless. Still, I held onto those straws, hoping that once the first injections were given and no harm was reported, my family members would recover. But his excuses were ready. The new batch was a “rejection,” they told me, donated by Western countries that sent the vaccines to Africa to get good public relations rather than throw them away.
This sounds like completely irrational behavior, but in fact it is quite the opposite. In countries like Sudan, nothing good, and certainly nothing free, comes from the state. The government is an extractive body that exists not to serve citizens, but to dig into their pockets and charge them for their daily activities. Corruption is endemic – from bribery through traffic violations to being forced to use private hospitals because government cronies have hoarded medical technology. The state is something you thrive on despite. Government communication reflects this uneasy relationship. Officials speak to the public to scold them or to spread propaganda, and dissent is prohibited; In Egypt, doctors who contradicted the government’s account of the pandemic were arrested, weather oxygen tanks ran out in intensive care units in Cairo.
How do you try to convince someone that the provision of free and effective Covid vaccines is the exception to the rules under which you have lived your entire life? That vaccines are a sudden outbreak of generosity Y competence? Suspicion is easily sown, because political systems do not need to be completely authoritarian to sustain dishonest and exploitative regimes that breed mistrust. You might think that there is a dubious hidden profit motive behind Covid vaccines if you live in the US, for example, where there is extreme political resistance to publicly funded healthcare, an outrageously healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. profitable that spend $ 306 million (£ 221 million) in lobbying a year and exorbitant, unregulated prices for everything from flu shots to holding your baby after birth. If you lived in the UK, you might doubt the government’s assurances that the vaccine had been rigorously tested, after seeing top officials appear to concoct anti-pandemic policies as they went along, dragging the nation with them through U-turns and closures whose rules did not follow themselves.
The failure of the state generates paranoia. And when trust in government is broken, people turn to personal surveillance. This climate of hesitancy and caution is compounded by poorly regulated media trading in falsehoods. In the UK, for example, a misleading report about excluding ethnic minority people from vaccine trials was resolved with only one short correction in a footnote.
Vaccine rejection does not happen in a vacuum. It is easier to dismiss hesitation and conspiracies as unhinged behavior; it makes us feel less nervous about the irrational displays of who we think are, or should be, rational people. Sure, among people who doubt vaccines there are those who are simply stubborn, misanthropic, or selfish. But, just as the pandemic exploited the weaknesses of our economic and public health systems, the vacillation of vaccines has exposed the weaknesses of states’ bond with their citizens. There are no easy answers on how to deal with repeat conspiracy theories and falsehoods, but scrutinizing systems that lost your trust is perhaps a good place to start.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism